Thursday, July 26, 2001

Just say no to drugstores

My town is being overrun by drugstores.

They’re popping up everywhere, in every new mini-mall, on every street corner. And not just petite mom-and-pop pharmacies, but super-mega-drugstores, the kind where you can get your cold medicine and makeup and school supplies and toys and birthday presents and gardening gear and weekly groceries all in one handy spot.

One of these in close driving distance is nifty. Two of these in close driving distance is way convenient. Fifty-five of these in close driving distance is overkill. I figure our town is going on about eighty.

The latest is the jewel in the crown of our downtown redevelopment. It replaces a movie theater, because goodness knows we don’t want teenagers and other moviegoing riff-raff hanging around our downtown. It pre-empts a fast-food restaurant; town fathers have been firm in forbidding the likes of Wendy’s and Burger King from the site, because goodness knows we don’t want families with young children and other fast-food-loving riff-raff hanging around our downtown. What we want hanging around our downtown are senior citizens in big, slow cars who must have constant access to their 33 individual prescriptions. This is the face we want to present as a community: A Town On Medication.

Personally, I would like to know when the No Fast Food Ever referendum passed, because what I would have liked to see more than anything in that prime downtown space is a big old McDonald’s with a vast playspace, one where I could leave my kids to wander for hours while I guzzle Diet Coke (my personal drug of choice) and read magazines. A Chuck E. Cheese would have been fine, too. I suppose I could always bring my kids to the big shiny new drugstore and let them run up and down the aisles, but my son always seems to find the condom counter, and I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to him what they are.

So downtown won’t be drawing us. We’re so backward, we still drive to a drugstore way ‘cross town, passing others all along the way. It’s our little way of commenting on the fact that there should be far fewer pharmacies hereabouts. And, maybe, more gas stations.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Stay strong

My daughter will never be a waif. She'll never be one of those wide-eyed, slim-hipped, fine-boned creatures you see slithering through magazine layouts and rock videos and episodes of Ally McBeal. Her body type tends more toward the sturdy. The solid. The, dare I say it, big-boned. She's slender but strong, proud for now of her muscles and her ever-increasing height and weight. She enjoys eating, as long as it doesn't involve vegetables, and revels in how the food will make her bigger.

She doesn't worry about being fat. Yet.

She's brought it up a couple of times, and I've told her she's not, and that's been the end of it. She's asked me why I'm so fat, usually after she's heard me obsessing about it, and I tell her something depending on my mood that is generally the end of that. Weight, and the perceived undesirability thereof, is not among her concerns. But how long is that going to last?

Forever, I hope. But our culture doesn't suggest that. According to a recent Intelihealth report, experts are now seeing girls as young as 5 who are worried that they're too fat, and adjusting their diets accordingly. My girl is 11, and still showing no interest in decreasing her chocolate-chip cookie intake one whit. I worry, when I tell her to stop snacking already -- am I sending a message that she's getting fat? Or that she will get fat? Or that I'd care if she did?

In truth, it's probably less what I think and say and more what her peers do that will cause the problems. The fact that she's in a grade two years below her age level won't help. For most of her school career, she'll be classmates with girls whose bodies are less mature and whose clothing sizes are smaller than hers. It's hard to believe that won't become an issue at some point. As of right now, between third and fourth grade, she seems to have a healthy range of body types among her friends, from skinny to chubby, tall to short, more to less developed. And it doesn't sound as if any of them are dieting, either -- whenever my daughter points out something in the supermarket that all the kids are eating and she just has to have, it's invariably fried, fast, sugar-pumped and loaded with empty calories.

That's the ironic thing, of course -- as America craves and glorifies thinness, we're all eating worse and getting fatter. Adults are more overweight. Kids are more overweight. It's appropriate, to a degree, to guard against excess weight in ourselves and our children. But it seems that the pendulum can so easily swing from one sort of unhealthiness to another. So far, my daughter is solidly in the middle, slim but not skinny, eating but not overeating, aware of her body but not preoccupied by it, happy to wear jeans and T-shirts instead of hiphuggers and bikini tops.

I just hope she can hang onto that when she's a big, sturdy teen amidst a sea of skinny, sexed-up pop-star wannabes. At any rate, she'll be able to beat any one of those malnourished stick-figure girls at basketball.

Monday, July 09, 2001

Bug free

Today, my kids start their respective summer programs and I start figuring out how to get them to two different places 20 minutes apart at the same time. It's going to be a long six weeks.

I also get all sorts of new things to worry about, like: Will my son's camp counselors be able to handle him? Will he be safe in the pool? Will he come home with the same towel and bathing suit he left with? Will my daughter be safe in her drop-in-at-the-park program? Will her friends be there? Will they want to play with her? Will I forget to pick her up?

But one thing I'm not going to worry about this year are head lice. And why is that? Have I found some new miracle chemical shield? Have head lice been wiped out in my area? Are my kids' heads hermetically sealed? No. I'm not going to worry because Harvard entomologist Richard J. Pollack, Ph.D., says I shouldn't. He says all the folderol about excluding kids and treating kids and bagging up the entire house for bugs is ridiculous. Head lice are harmless. They don't spread that easily, and if they do, big whoop.

Harvard entomologist Richard J. Pollack, Ph.D., is my hero.

We've only had one lice infestation here, but it was a doozy. My daughter had live lice crawling around on her head (Richard J. Pollack says unless you see live lice, do nothing -- and be sure they're lice, not spiders or ants. These were lice, they were live, and they had an attitude.) Because I was a good citizen and had not yet read about Richard J. Pollack, I called her very expensive camp and told them she had lice, and was of course told not to bring her back until she was nit-free. I washed her twice with the insecticide shampoo, I combed, I combed, I combed, I covered her head with mayonnaise, I combed, I covered her head with olive oil, I combed, I sprayed the house, I combed, I bagged the bedding, I combed, I combed, I combed. The camp nurse found nits and commented that Mom wasn't trying hard enough. I combed, and I imagined the camp nurse crawling with lice. Ha!

It was so hard to get rid of those buggers and their every trace that I have been in a complete panic about lice ever since. I've had my family shampooing with tea tree oil long after any last bugs had breathed their last. I left the bedding in bags for over a year. I examine my kids' hair with every little scratch. And I dread the thought of them being sent home from school for as long as it takes me to do this again.

But now, no worries. Richard J. Pollack -- and indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics with him -- say heck no, the kids shouldn't go. They shouldn't be kicked out of school or camp, they shouldn't be stigmatized in front of their peers, and the peers parents should not be notified of an outbreak. Because, you know, it's no biggie. Some cultures even value head lice as a sign that you've got friends.

Now, if only we can sell that to the camp and school nurses of this nation, I'll really be able to breathe easy.

Friday, July 06, 2001

Minor miracles

I may be speaking too soon, but it looks like my behavior-challenged boy may have made it through his two weeks of religious education "camp" with everybody's nerves intact.

This is an improvement over last year, when they asked me to pick him up an hour-and-a-half early every day because that's all they could take. Well, that's not what they said. They said that's all he could take. But I knew what they meant.

This year, he's stayed the whole three-and-three-quarters hours every day without incident. Part of it is that he's more mature. Part of it is that he has a teacher who's not freaked out by him. But most of it is that, instead of having a stray teenager as an aide, he has a paid adult. Paid by us. And worth every penny.

Last year, I did ask his school one-on-one aide if she'd like a couple of weeks extra work. She said no, and I let it go at that. This year, I asked her to help me find someone who would. She hooked us up with another one-on-one from the school, who is doing a fine job (augmented excellently by a very loyal friend who took the first two days while the school aide was still at school). My son's teacher has remarked how having the aide keeps Andy focused, so that he gets something out of the class and all the other kids do, too.

Personally, just our secret, I'm happy if he's just there being nondisruptive. If he learns something, that's gravy. For him, just to be included without incident is enormous.

So today is the last day, and barring a major blow-up at the final ceremonies, we've pulled it off. He's pulled it off, my great little guy. And maybe this means he can pull off all the First Communion and First Reconciliation training, too. Maybe he'll eventually sit still in church, participate in the Mass, stay quiet during Sunday School.

Maybe I better check into hiring that aide full-time.

Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Health hazards

Put these formerly harmless things on your list of dangers to protect your kids from.

FIREWORKS July 4 is coming up, and with it the risk that your child will lose ... no, not a finger. His or her hearing. You may know that buying fireworks is illegal and handling them personally is unwise, but now even standing outside and listening to them has been found to be actively harmful. A study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals that more than 5 million youngsters have suffered some degree of hearing loss from the overloud sound of fireworks, lawnmowers, and rock concerts. The researchers suggested earplugs. We suggest watching fireworks on TV, with the sound off. And never mowing the lawn.

MERCURY THERMOMETERS For my money, nothing tells your temperature like an old-fashioned mercury thermometer, the kind your mother used to use. Those digital jobs -- how do you know they're not just making it up? And ear thermometers have never worked well for me, always coming up with bizarrely low numbers that are not to be trusted. No, give me that silver bar expanding upwards, slowly but surely. Yet now, that very same precision apparatus is on the verge of extinction, simply because it contains within its glass shell a toxic substance. People are being urged to dispose of their old mercury thermometers because ... well, because when they're disposed of, they're an environmental hazard. Doesn't that mean we should all hang on to them? If we don't, at any rate, we'll never see them again, because they're being taken off the market. Why do I feel I'll never know my true temperature again?

PETTING ZOOS You say they're a charming way for children to get in touch with peaceful barnyard animals. The government says they're an E. coli contamination waiting to happen. The CDC, citing numerous cases of children being sickened by the bacteria after petting petting-zoo denizens and then putting their hands in or near their mouths, advise parents to exercise extreme caution. Alright: Rubber gloves, face masks, family fun for everyone!

COOKING WITH GAS If your daughter's prone to allergies, you might want to switch to electric. In a test of more than 700 Italian preteens, it was found that being in the kitchen while a gas stove was in use reduced lung function in allergy-susceptible girls. Interestingly, no such correlation was found in allergy-susceptible boys, undoubtedly because they were never in the kitchen when cooking was being done.